Milton struggles to get a handle on class sizes
MILTON The Milton School Board plans to assemble a community panel to come up with long-term solutions for growing class sizes in district elementary schools, but that's not all it is doing to fix the problem.
The board also is asking teachers and school principals for short-term suggestions on how to address growing class sizes.
Board President Rob Roy told a few dozen teachers at a meeting Monday night that he would like teachers and administrators to submit to the board plans to ease class sizes, which have climbed as high as 29 students in some grade school classrooms, according to district records.
A board committee later this week plans to set up a panel of district teachers, administrators and residents to address class sizes over the next three to five years, Roy said.
The board didn't forge immediate plans to reduce class sizes this year, but it heard suggestions from residents, teachers and administrators.
Some ideas included bringing in a number of extra reading specialists and even high school and college students to work as classroom aides.
Roy apologized to teachers and residents Monday, saying he takes responsibility for losing sight of growing class sizes in the district.
"I dropped the ball on class size," he said, noting that he had concerns about the issue as far back as when he was first elected to the board a dozen years ago. But he indicated that larger budget issues and other district concerns had blinded him to the issue.
"I stopped talking about it," Roy said. "I stopped looking at the numbers."
Board member Jon Cruzan put it another way.
"It's like boiling a frog slowly. You boil it slowly, and you don't see it boiling," he said.
The board's discussion came on the heels of an open letter from the Milton teachers union to board members earlier this month.
In the letter, the union said class sizes were unacceptable and were largest at Northside Intermediate School. The union pressed the district to hire at least one more teacher at the school.
But Monday, Northside Intermediate Principal Sarah Stuckey told the board it would be unfair to isolate the issue to one school.
The district this year trimmed a class section from the first, second and third grade levels at Milton East Elementary School and cut one class section in fifth grade. The cuts came even as enrollments held steady or increased in most of those grade levels, according to district records.
Stuckey said she is most concerned about first grade classes, where students are just learning to read.
It's not clear where the district could focus extra staff or whether it could add another teacher mid-year. Superintendent Mike Garrow has said it could take seven to nine weeks to hire an extra teacher.
Adding staff could be paid with a projected cash surplus this year, district officials said.
Adding a teacher would mean relocating a number of students to a new classroom mid-year, Garrow has said. Some students could find that difficult.
If it plans to add staff this school year, the board would need to come up with a plan before the district's budget is finalized in October, Roy said. To manage class sizes and other concerns, the district might have to consider asking voters for a referendum for additional operating funds.
"Maybe it's time we start having that conversation with our community," he said.